Happy 177th birthday to America’s greatest word … OK!
Entirely curved O, entirely straight K — put them together and they are the two-letter, two-syllable combination that confirms agreements, certifies that something works, gives lecturers a way to sum up, and expresses the American philosophy of pragmatism. I could write a book about it (and I did).
For 177 years, ever since OK was born on Page 2 of the Boston Morning Post on March 23, 1839, OK has been a favorite of politicians. Within a year of its birth, Martin Van Buren, running in vain for re-election as president, was supported by OK Clubs. The initials referred to Old Kinderhook, since he was from Kinderhook, N.Y.
And they’re still doing it with OKs right and left. On Sunday, Donald Trump told an audience of conservatives, “I’m OK with the Cuba situation. But I want to tell you, they should be making a good deal. For instance, I hear Cuba wants to sue us. … That’s OK. When you make your deal, you get rid of that. Right? You say, OK, we’ll do some — but you gotta get that clause out. Boom.”
Last month, Hillary Clinton talked with a Latina girl worried about her parents being deported and said, “I’ll do everything I can to help, OK?” This was such an effective scene that it was made into a campaign ad.
This month Bernie Sanders was asked, “Senator, can you name a single circumstance at any point in a pregnancy in which you would be OK with abortion being illegal?” He answered, “It’s not a question of me being OK” — and then he elaborated.
Bernie’s wife, Jane Sanders, declared in February, ”I think women today are a little bit more intelligent than to say, ‘OK, all I care about is gender.’”
And earlier this month, John Kasich said,
“Do I want to do well in Michigan? Of course I do. I’m going to Ohio, OK? Let’s not be confused.”
In a quick scan of the Internet, however, I couldn’t find an OK spoken by Ted Cruz. That’s because all I could come up with was speeches, even in his answers to questions.
And that’s one of the peculiarities of OK. We use heaps of OKs in daily conversation: “Meet back here in an hour, OK?” “OK.” “Lunch at Nucci’s tomorrow?” “OK.” “Should I close the window?” “No, it’s OK the way it is.”
But even though OK is not blasphemous, obscene, or pejorative, we just don’t use OK when we’re being formal or official. None of the presidential State of the Union addresses has ever had an OK. The examples I found from politicians are mostly in conversation.
But that’s OK. So let’s celebrate the 177th today. Remember, any way you want to celebrate, it’s OK.
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